Woman happy to pay Covid fine for balloon release for father-in-law

Tanning salon owner, 34, who broke Covid rules by inviting friends and family to balloon release in tribute to her father-in-law who died from the virus is fined £500

  • Vicki Hutchinson was fined for holding illegal gathering of more than 30 people 
  • Mother-of-three, 34, had faced £10,000 fixed penalty after the incident last year
  • She had urged people to wear masks and socially distance in her Facebook post 

A tanning salon owner was today fined £635 for breaching lockdown rules after a video showed dozens of people at a balloon release in memory of her father-in-law.

Vicki Hutchinson had faced a £10,000 fixed penalty for holding an illegal gathering of more than 30 people last November.

But that was reduced after the mother-of-three attended Peterlee Magistrates’ Court in County Durham to admit the offence.

The 34-year-old said outside court: ‘When you lose someone, you don’t think, do you? There will be some people who say you shouldn’t have done it because we were in lockdown but I believe we should have the right to do things.  

‘We are not caged animals that have been shoved in the house.’

But the judge said thousands of families had also lost loved ones to Covid, adding: ‘They complied with the regulations and you chose to break them.’

Vicki Hutchinson outside Peterlee Magistrates’ Court, County Durham where she was fined just over £600 

On November 11, the mother-of-three had posted an invitation on her Facebook page for friends and family to attend a balloon release

On November 11, the mother-of-three had posted an invitation on her Facebook page for friends and family of Ian Stephenson to attend a balloon release on a field opposite the church where his funeral was due to take place in the following days.

The well-liked 58-year-old former miner had just died from a Covid-related illness, the court heard.

Hutchinson, from Peterlee, had urged people to wear masks and socially distance in her Facebook post.

No police officers attended and there was no disorder during the gathering by St Mary’s Church in Horden. 

But following a complaint, police investigated and analysed a livestream of the event which showed there was an unknown number of people there, which was more than 30.

The video showed many of those attendance did not keep apart or wear masks.

Outside court, Hutchinson said she accepted the fine but could not have paid the £10,000 fixed penalty.

She said: ‘I’m not a celebrity, I’m a normal person who runs a business.

‘I’m happy with what they did today, yes I did break the law, yes I did release balloons, but at the time, when you lose someone, you don’t think, do you?

‘There will be some people who say you shouldn’t have done it because we were in lockdown but I believe we should have the right to do things [sic].

‘We are not caged animals that have been shoved in the house. The way it made my family feel, and the smiles it put on people’s faces, I had to do it.’

Former miner Ian Stephenson, 58, died from Covid-19. Family and friends gathered in County Durham last November to release balloons in his memory, despite England being under lockdown at the time

District Judge Tim Capstick set the fine at £500, plus another £135 in costs, after hearing her tanning business had only just reopened.

He said the regulations were in place to reduce the risk of people spreading the virus.

The judge said many thousands of families had lost loved ones to Covid, as she had done, telling her: ‘They complied with the regulations and you chose to break them.’

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